If you type "Christian porn" into Google, you get about 75 million results. Most of these are anti-porn platforms — surprise, surprise — but a large swath of content is actually part of a christian sex movement: christian erotica sites, pole-dancing-for-Jesus classes and Christian sex toy shops.
Christian sex toys are not shaped like pieces from a nativity scene (unfortunately), but they're "Christian" because the sites that sell them never feature nudity, and they explicitly condemn homosexuality and premarital sex. Plus, the companies ship your toys in plain white boxes, just the way God intended.
Capitalizing on Jesus is nothing new; there is "ultimate Christian pro-wrestling", Christian diet plans and this line of slutty-lite "Church Gurl" tank tops. But Christians hocking vibrators for Jesus have a specific sex philosophy that goes along with the toys, and it's a warped version of sex positivity. The religious right may be a slut-shaming, anti-birth-control, homophobic bunch, but there are a number of Christians who are doing sex for the Lord. Who, of course, is always watching.
Three Passions Lingerie sells the same over-priced lacy stuff you could find on the racks of adult superstores on desolate highways across America. But this lingerie is Christian because Christina, the site's owner, makes sure the website is free of nudity. "I came up with the idea while at a Christian marriage conference. They were saying that it is okay to wear something sexy for your partner, but I thought there is nowhere to go! I don't like shops where I am going to see nudity or scantily clad models," said Christina by phone.
So Christina decided to start a Christian lingerie site sans nudity, which isn't easy since she doesn't receive stock until someone orders it, and only has photos of models wearing the lingerie. "At first I just cut off the heads and legs of the models. But I felt like the lord was telling me I needed to do more, so I came up with a way of covering them completely" says Christina who has morphed the stock photos of models into Microsoft Paint blobs wearing lingerie. This editing takes hours, but for Christina — who believes looking at racy photos of others is immoral — it's worth it. Christina also deems dildos acceptable unless they are realistic, which is too much like bringing another person into the bedroom (a person who isn't so much a person as a severed rubber floating penis).
Meanwhile, the past few years of seen an explosion of sexy sermons explaining exactly how God wants you to have sex. Ed Young, a television pastor with very white teeth and a very perky wife, made the New York Times Best Seller list this past January with his book The Sexperiment. In promoting the book, he gave weeks of sex sermons at his Texas-based church. Pastor Young explains via e-mail: "It's vital for the church to talk about sex according to God's plan, because God is the creator of sex. We've allowed culture to hijack what God created. But sex isn't dirty or shameful, when it's done God's way. It is a gift designed for a man and a woman to share in the marriage bed. But anything that distracts from that does not highlight God's plan."
Pastor Young has become the face of sexy-sermons, but the trend stretches back to 2007, when a handful of local news stations reported on churches offending their congregations with sex-related content. Most of these reports centered on the outrage over churches mailing glossy flyers that read things like "Red Hot Sex" or "Victorious Secrets: The Intimacy Series." With a Sex and the City-style font, of course.
I reached out to a number of Christian sex toy shops, but all were reluctant to talk a reporter for a site named "Jezebel" — except one. "Nate" informed me that he would no longer be selling vibrators for Jesus — as he just sold his popular online shop. But he would talk to me as a former Christian sex shop owner...and also a former Christian. "Reading the bible is one of the fastest ways to become an atheist," laughs Nate, who used to be an associate pastor but hasn't worked in full-time vocational ministry since 2002. "It was much easier when I was younger to explain the problems in the old testament but as I got older I couldn't shake it." For half of the time he owned the Christian sex shop, Nate ran it as a covert atheist.
Nate found hawking dildos for Christ a little distasteful, but mostly it felt like he was doing something good. "Most Christians are looking for something to relieve cognitive dissonance — they want to do something but feel guilty, so having a Christian version makes it okay." Nate's thinking is that the more you can lessen people's guilt around sex and help them relax, the better, though he does worry about perpetuating a cycle of shame. "Religions take advantage of sexuality because sex affects everyone, unless you happen to be asexual. The overwhelming majority of people masturbate or have sex outside marriage, yet religion says if you do these things you need to come to church for forgiveness. There is a tremendous amount of guilt that keeps people coming back to the church."
So if Nate is right and Christians are simply justifying the things they are already doing, where is the line? Pastor Young tells me that it is up to each married couple to decide if things like toys or lingerie are acceptable, but if there can be a Christian butt-plug, why can't there be Christian porn? For those millions of search results "christian porn" turns up, the genre has yet to formally exist. But will it in the future?
There are already Christian erotica sites out there, including Michal Scott's Christian erotica blog and the Christian sex blog, Christian Nymphos. Michal Scott even notes that Christian erotica is always a threesome because God is in the mix. (WWJD? MMF, apparently.) The sites are full of smut written by Christians, for christians. Or maybe secretly written by atheists who fetishize christians? I can't tell anymore.
"The phrase ‘Christian porn' is an oxymoron," says Pastor Young."That simply cannot exist. Like everything, we base what we believe and do on what the bible says and the bible teaches that sex is for a man and a woman to share in the marriage bed. Porn is introducing into the equation something that God never intended to be there to begin with. To bring in any other parties— physically, visually or emotionally— is to take away from the power and potential of God's plan." Christian-lingerie-selling Christina is similarly outraged by the idea of Christian porn. "If you have porn and just put ‘Christian' in front of it, it is no different than any other porn site," she says.
But if 70% of men watch porn — a number that has been tossed around — and as much as 76% of the U.S. population considers itself Christian (according to this report), then surely there's some overlap? Somewhere there are Christians watching porn. And according to Nate they also are fond of anal-play; the most popular toys on his site were prostate stimulators and the "double diver" a cock-ring with a small dildo attached for double-penetration. "Most Christians are doing the same things that everyone else is doing — they just feel guilty about it," says Nate. Though the double-diver sales did slightly surprise him and led him to a thought: "I could probably sell porn on the site, and people would still buy from us. I thought about doing it as an experiment, maybe include really gay-positive copy along with the porn, still under the Christian name," he says. "I am curious just how far the envelope can be pushed."
Image via Tyler Olson/Shutterstock.